"The Mall Is No Place to Grieve"

By Margaret Storey

Published October 8, 2001 7:37PM (EDT)

Read the story.

Oh look, another anti-corporate, anti-consumer screed in Salon. What a surprise.

What exactly is your problem with capitalism? Does it keep you awake nights, staring at the ceiling, worrying that I might be buying a pair of shoes I don't need, and that I might enjoy doing so?

Storey asks "where in all this is the dignity of mourning? ... where is the time of quiet, or reflection on life, that death should always bring?" Dignity in mourning? This is America, we don't do dignity here. When our nation is wounded, we like to get together and do American things, like lame celebrity benefits that nobody would watch otherwise. Quiet reflection on life? So, how long should that take? Like, 20 minutes or something? Do I have to be doing nothing, or can I just kind of turn off the radio on the drive into work?

Like most Americans, I like having stuff. Really, it beats not having stuff. Ask anybody. It's the whole reason I have a job. It's not the money, it's the crap that I can get with it. Consumerism isn't good, and it isn't bad. And it doesn't have anything to do with dignity, or reflection, or liberty. It has everything to do with the difference between me sitting at home staring at the walls and me riding around on a new bicycle or fiddling with my new computer.

Life and culture don't have to come to a grinding halt because of this.

Americans are loud, silly and ignorant. But we've got guts, and while Sept. 11 was a kick to the head, we can take that and more. We're here for the long run, and we want to have a good time while we're here; we work hard, and we deserve it. So we're going to find the people who did this, and we're going to fuck them up. We're going to clean up Manhattan, and we're going to bury our dead. And we're going to keep on buying. It's what we do.

After all, we're Americans.

-- AB

It is relatively easy for someone in Margaret Storey's position to criticize the emphasis on "getting back to normal," especially with regards to shopping and tourism. After all, academic jobs are pretty much recession-proof. However difficult they are to acquire, tenure-track positions are not doled out according to the projections of consumer confidence, nor are they dependent on the mood of the stock market or venture capitalists. For those of us who live in the "real" economy, the prospect of dropping consumer demand, lowered business investment and empty tourist destinations has real and frightening consequences. If everyone cocooned themselves in a mountain of self-indulgent grief, our economy would certainly drop into a tailspin (if it isn't already).

Frankly, most people in this country have very little to grieve about as a result of this terrible attack. Most people do not personally know anyone who was killed or injured, or even a family member of a victim. Even in New York, most people don't personally know anyone who was affected. We're all reeling here, but most New Yorkers I know are desperate for the tourists to return. Tourism and shopping are life-bloods of this city, and we need them to resume. I don't consider it unseemly to spend money on frivolous things: People earn a living by making and selling these so-called frivolous things, and that living isn't so frivolous to them. Whatever neo-Marxist analysis you throw at it, the emphasis on consumer spending isn't about numbing the national senses -- it's an acknowledgement that we are on the cusp on recession, with consumer spending as the only thing that might be able to keep us from tipping over the edge. So, please, everyone, do go to the mall, do buy airline tickets, do spend money on things that are fun and pleasurable, and yes, frivolous.

-- Maia Gemmill

Thank you for this article. I was beginning to think I was the only one who thought there was something unseemly about Ford and GM offering lower financing charges (only until the end of October) on all new car purchases in order to "keep America rolling," or the patriotic bumper sticker I received in the mail from Staples, along with coupons exhorting me to "help get the economy moving." How far have we as a society fallen when some see over 5,000 senseless, tragic deaths as a "marketing opportunity"?

-- Sandy LoSchiavo

Margaret Storey's recent article on the place of consumerism in a time of national grief, while thoughtful and well intentioned, completely misses the point. Now, I'm not suggesting that shopping is the answer. Frenzied accumulation of Medium Brown Bags does seem more than a little inappropriate, especially when so many of us in New York are only beginning to learn how to live with lost wives, brothers, husbands, children and friends. On the other hand, there's no need to let the grief consume us wholly, and take the economy down with it. As any good Buddhist will espouse, the key to enlightenment is the middle path. We can't bury ourselves in sorrow, nor should we use our sadness or the threat of recession as an excuse to hoard cashmere cardigans and Steve Madden shoes. The time of mourning is not over; it's simply changed. The days of sitting in dark rooms, weeping lagoons of despair are behind us, and now it's time for a good old-fashioned Jazz Funeral. Sing songs, laugh, dance, and eat a disgustingly rich meal. Buy theater tickets and share them with the friends we have left, show them how much the mean to us, and tell them how hard it would be if someone took them away, too. By enjoying life, we don't disrespect the dead; we celebrate them. And if, as a result, we end up supporting the national economy, how can that possibly be a bad thing?

-- Scott Gold

Although it is hard and uncomfortable to shop in such a time of mourning, it must be done. The fact is that our country is based on capitalism, and in order for it to work, we need to spend money. Just see the wire article called "Businesses shed 199,000 jobs" here on Salon. If we don't spend money, people can't make money. And, unfortunately, the working class in this system is the first to lose their jobs. I'm going to the mall tomorrow.

-- Shannyn Kirwan

While I agree that shopping is not a great response to the emotional, spiritual and financial crisis this country is facing, I find it amusing that this article is printed in the midst of asking your readers to cough up $$ to read Salon Premium. And today's premium articles (10/04/01) seem to extend beyond politics and news and include sex and entertainment. I have long admired Salon and its ballsy approach to journalism. But I am tiring of clicking on only to find that less and less is available to me, unless I too, open my wallet.

-- L. Trank

Margaret Storey is rightfully concerned about respect for the dead. But what about respect for the living? People who are still grieving themselves are in serious danger of losing their jobs (and inevitably their homes and other possessions as a consequence) because the economy has been so compromised. The world will not stop for us to catch up, so we had better decide which of our rituals are no longer practical.

-- Michael Benedetto

Finally an article saying what I have been thinking all along.

However, I am less offended by flags in window displays (it is possible that they are presented as a sincere symbol of patriotism and sobriety by the business owner, rather than simply and cynically as a form of advertisement) or even by crass advertisements, than I am by the exhortation of our nation's putative leaders that we should all "get back to business as usual" and support the economy by shopping. Advertising is what businesses do. For national leaders to confuse shopping with patriotism, however, is insulting to patriotic, grieving Americans.

-- Tedra Osell

By Salon Staff

MORE FROM Salon Staff

Related Topics ------------------------------------------